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Rowdy welcome for Taiwan's President in Houston

Houston, 3 June 2001

AFP -- Taiwan's President Chen Shui-bian arrived here Saturday on a weekend transit stop in Houston to a rowdy welcome from pro-Taiwan demonstrators and rival protestors backing Beijing's communist rulers after a flight from Honduras, the final stop in his five-nation Latin American tour.

Around 3,000 Taiwan supporters toting banners and chanting slogans massed outside Chen's hotel, separated by police from several hundred demonstrators from the One China Alliance which is critical of the island.

To cheers and jeers, a smiling Chen stepped out of his limousine and spent around fifteen minutes waving to supporters, ample time for press photographers to capture a valuable moment of publicity for Taiwan.

Pro-Chen activists, some of whom had travelled from as far away as California chanted "we love Taiwan, we love freedom" and waved back, eyed by a heavy turnout of US Secret Service agents and police.

One supporter, Cheng Y. Chuang said : "we are here because we want to make clear that Taiwan is not a part of China according to history." Chen made no statements to the crowd or journalists.

His stopover came less than two weeks after a similar transit stop in NewYork at the outset of his trip, which included a visit to the NY stock exchange.

China has condemned Washington for allowing Chen to break his journeys in the United States, but President George W. Bush's new administration has made every effort to accommodate President Chen's wishes, in contrast to the attitude of the White House of former president Bill Clinton.

During a stopover in the United States last year while Clinton was still in office, Chen was confined to his hotel and told to avoid any public events deemed likely to antagonise China.

On Sunday, Chen is due to go to a Taste of Texas steak house for lunch with Tom DeLay, majority whip in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and attend a Houston Astros - LA Dodgers baseball game before leaving for home.

Taiwan is counting on a major publicity coup from Chen's two stops in theUnited States in its perennial struggle for recognition with China.

Washington has no official diplomatic relations with Taiwan. But it is a strong supporter of Taiwan's young democracy, and Bush is bound by law to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself against any agression by China.

Earlier this year, Bush infuriated China by signing off on a major arms package for Taiwan, and then discarded the decades-old strategic ambiguity, cloaking the likely US response to any Chinese invasion of the island. Bush said he would do "whatever it took" to help Taiwan defend itself.

Bush aides, wary of diplomatic protocol, say they have not actively encouraged Chen to meet congressmen. But at the same time, they have not discouraged meetings. "What we are saying is that we believe such meetings advance the interests of both sides," said an administration official.